PORTLAND -- Mayor Charlie Hales apologized and called for an investigation after a top aide reportedly made inappropriate comments regarding Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith last Thursday at a Southwest Portland restaurant.
Smith told KGW anchor Laural Porter that the comments came during a gathering of about 40 at Quartet restaurant.
As Baruti Artharee, the mayor's policy director on public safety, took the podium, Smith says Artharee pointed her out to the crowd. He commented on how good he thought she looked, then as others watched, he made a suggestive motion with his hips.
Artharee told Willamette Week that he said "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith - mmm, mmm, mmm - she looks good tonight." He said the comments were meant to be a "comical" light-hearted compliment.
"No, it wasn't funny," Smith told Porter. "What it did was identify my physical appearance without acknowledging the work I had done for the community."
Hales said Tuesday the city's human resources department would conduct a thorough investigation.
"Our process will go forward," he said. "There will be a proper investigation and we'll do this not on a 24-hour news cycle but in a right and proper way." "
"It made me feel so uncomfortable," Smith said. "It minimized me. I am a public official. It gave people in the room the license to talk about me in that manner."
Hales himself had remained silent about the controversy since it surfaced in Willamette Week Sunday, and Monday afternoon he declined to speak to the Oregonian about whether he would apologize to Smith. He declined repeated requests from KGW to speak.
At about 6:15 p.m. Monday, after KGW had already aired parts of the interview in which Smith called on Mayor Hales to speak to her directly, a county spokesman says she finally heard from the mayor, and that Hales apologized and promised to personally keep Smith up to speed on the city's investigation into the matter.
Artharee had apologized to her earlier. In his position, he is Hales' liaison to the Portland Police Bureau and responsible in part for negotiating a federal civil rights settlement with the Portland Police Union and a coalition of African-American ministers.
A Hales spokesman told KGW that Artharee could face anything from no punishment to termination based on what the investigation uncovers.
Smith said it was not the first time Artharee had behaved inappropriately towards her. There were three other instances, less public.
Smith told Porter that at first she didn't plan on going public with her complaint, but that after thinking about the abused, bullied and harassed women she works with, she felt she owed it to them.
"I should not have to put up with that. I should not be subjected to what I was subjected to last Thursday," Smith said. "It was inappropriate and unprofessional."